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Thailand - Hazards Page 1

Danger On The Roads

Yet another Thai motorcycle accident victim - Click for larger image

STOP!

Forget about all the exotic tropical diseases the newspapers have been reporting in order to try to increase circulation. Statistically you are highly unlikely to be affected by bird flu or any other viral disease.

The biggest single danger you face in Thailand is from the lunatics on Thailand's roads. In terms of population size, Thailand ranks about 21st in the world. In terms of road accident deaths the country is 6th.

The only countries in the world that have more road accident deaths are Iraq and Iran and a few backward African countries.

The UK and Thailand have about the same number of people, and presumably about the same number of vehicles. In the UK about five people a day lose their lives in road accidents.

... and here's a close-up of his foot - Click for larger image Statistics in Thailand are not very consistent. A figure of 35-40 lives lost per day is quoted often. The World Health Organisation estimates the figure at 26,000 per year, which is about 71 a day.

Whichever way you look at it, the situation in Thailand is horrifying. It frightens me every time I go out on the roads, and it frightens me whenever my wife takes our daughter in the car. Nothing has changed my view more about Thailand than when I started to drive in the country - and not in a good way.

Every day in Thailand there is news of road accidents, and some are quite horrific. Many foreigners in the country lose their lives on the road, sometimes as passengers in vehicles and sometimes as pedestrians.

Every Thai has a close friend or relative that was killed in a road accident. A Thai woman told me that her young daughter's friend was killed in a road accident. I made this comment to her and she replied, "Yes, my father too."

It's a national tragedy and the biggest tragedy of all is that nothing is done to lessen the carnage. During the New Year and Songkran festivals even more people get killed on the roads than usual and the same thing happens every single year.

So, what's the reason?

Just like the abysmal education system in Thailand, there is no single reason. There are many reasons and most are cultural. The culture in the UK is very different, which is why only five people a day die in road accidents.

Yet another Thai motorcycle accident victim - Click for larger image Driving education is very poor. Most of my wife's lessons were carried out off the roads and more attention was paid to parking with the wheels straight than anything else. The driving test is also ineffectual and most Thai drivers are given licences when they can't really drive. But this is only a small part of the overall problem.

The biggest problem is with a certain sector of Thai men whose lives revolve around displaying outward shows of machismo. Drinking, smoking and driving fast are things they do to prove their manliness, or so they think. They are like teenage boys who never grow up.

Many have a bully-boy mentality and whereas they might be quite small physically they attempt to become big men by driving big pickup trucks and SUVs with dark tinted windows so that no one can see the little dwarf inside. They bear down on other drivers at high speed and use intimidating tactics to make other people get out of their way.

They don't care where they go crazy and don't alter their driving habits even in areas where there are lots of old people and children. Some have guns. All Thais know that some aggressive drivers have guns and won't do anything, just in case.

It really is the Wild East at times.

Reckless drivers endanger lives as a matter of course

Now, you are probably thinking that the job of the police is to apprehend such drivers in order to protect other road users. That may be the case in a civilised country, but remember this is Thailand.

I have been driving in the country regularly for several years. Traffic police sometimes sit at junctions regulating the flow of traffic. They occasionally set up road blocks to inspect motorbikes and cars.

Not once have I seen them stop a driver for breaking road laws or driving recklessly. The police just aren't interested. Drivers in Thailand can do whatever they want and they know that they won't be stopped.

Yet another Thai motorcycle accident victim - Click for larger image I have never seen a traffic light or speed camera in the country. There was talk at one time of installing speed cameras in Phuket, which has very dangerous roads, but I don't know if it ever happened.

There is no points system. In the unlikely event that a driver is stopped, he will be given a tiny fine and that's it. He will simply continue driving like a madman knowing that he probably won't get stopped again, and if he does he will just pay another small fine. There are no deterrents.

Driving in Thailand is like being on a race track. Thai males in their pickup trucks and saloon cars with big exhaust pipes are constantly trying to get ahead of the car in front. They overtake on both sides, overtake in dangerous places, and have no lane discipline. They use whichever lane has the least cars and then cut in to go where they want to go.

After driving in Thailand for a while the big surprise is that there aren't more accidents than there actually are.

After getting a car I imagined it would be a lot of fun driving around exploring new places. The truth of the matter is that after leaving the house I start to get angry with Thai drivers after two minutes and it never stops.

I get angry, which in turn upsets my wife because as she says, "You never know who has a gun." It has got to the stage where I try to limit my driving to essential journeys only.

If you have only been to Thailand for vacations you probably think that Thailand is the greatest place on earth and that Thais are the nicest people on the planet. If you start driving regularly, you will very shortly change your mind.

It's a nightmare.

How can you protect yourself in Thailand from the maniacs on the road? Firstly, as a pedestrian be very careful about crossing roads and always use pedestrian bridges if available. Thai drivers never stop at pedestrian crossings. Cabbie admits fatal hit-and-run.

Yet another Thai motorcycle accident victim - Click for larger image Drive yourself. As a passenger you face two dangers - the danger from maniacs on the road and the danger from the maniac driving the vehicle you are in. Driving yourself takes one maniac out of the equation. Passenger minivan drivers are the most aggressive and dangerous drivers in Thailand.

Consider your transport options. Plane is the safest form of transport in Thailand. Trains do derail occasionally, but train journeys are safer than road journeys. Try to avoid minivans at all costs. These things can be lethal. Big buses and coaches are safer than minivans, but they still get involved in a lot of accidents. Six tourists among 10 dead in coach crash. Five killed in Phitsanulok tour bus accident.

Be very careful if cycling: British cyclists killed in Thailand truck accident

Is this just me being paranoid? Look at the statistics, read the Thai on-line newspapers regularly, and if you are in Thailand observe what happens on the roads. I don't think I'm being paranoid and even Thais believe that it is necessary to warn foreigners about the danger on Thai roads: Warn tourists about Thai driving habits, expert says

Ignore these warnings at your own peril. I have linked to a tiny fraction of the stories I have read over the years about road deaths in Thailand. As I said above, it is a national tragedy.

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Dek Wairn

Yet another motorbike accident in Thailand  - Click for larger image When I was a teenager in the UK my parents wouldn't let me have a motorbike, and that rule also applied to the vast majority of my friends. Those who did have a motorbike just had a low-powered moped. The Yamaha FS1-E was a popular option and later models were restricted to 50kph.

In the event of any motorcyclist going crazy in the UK, the police will intervene very quickly.

By contrast, every teenage kid in Thailand has a motorbike and the 125cc models they ride about on are quite swift.

Parental control is non-existent and very few kids are prevented from having bikes by their parents. In addition, traffic laws aren't enforced and teenage kids are free to drive how they wish. For most teenage boys this means driving as quickly and recklessly as possible.

They change their exhaust systems in order to make their bikes very loud. This modification has no effect on performance but simply makes a little Honda Wave sound like a Harley Davidson.

Yet another motorbike accident in Thailand  - Click for larger image They ride around in little packs with huge grins on their faces and a favourite trick is to try to get the front wheel off the ground. This is known as 'yok lor' in Thai (lift wheel), whereas Brits refer to it as a 'wheelie'.

ยกล้อ

They might drive around slowly in their little packs (taking up the whole lane), but just like in a cycling sprint race one will take off and the others will give chase at high speed.

Rather than find isolated areas where they can amuse themselves without annoying or endangering others, they prefer to race around in busy areas where there are lots of people.

If you happen to be outside you run the risk of being hit by one of the little morons, and even if you are inside you are disturbed by the roar of their loud exhaust pipes. They occasionally race around in the early hours of the morning and wake me up.

Thais refer to the little brats as, 'dek wairn'. 'dek' means child and is a reference to their young age, although some are in their late 20's. 'wairn' is an approximation of the sound of their motorbikes revving up, "wairn wairn wairn."

เด็กแว๊น

Thais I have spoken to about this very serious social problem tell me that it exists in every province of Thailand. Just like me, they don't like it, but they feel powerless to do anything and the police aren't interested.

Yet another motorbike accident in Thailand  - Click for larger image I've seen signs warning them about driving dangerously and pulling wheelies. The signs threaten them with big fines but nothing is ever enforced in Thailand and so they can ride around with impunity knowing that the police will do nothing.

The police often set up road blocks and pull over motorcyclists to check their paperwork or fine them for not wearing helmets. They also check for drugs. This is good, but they don't seem bothered about the reckless, high-speed driving or the blatant disregard for traffic lights.

They get away with a lot - sometimes for a long time - but driving the way they do increases their chances of being involved in a serious accident. Of the 40 or so people who die every day on Thailand's roads most are motorcyclists and I would guess that quite a few are young boys. Their general contempt of traffic laws means they very rarely wear crash helmets.

Yet another motorbike accident in Thailand  - Click for larger image After she was born my daughter had a problem with her feet and we spent quite a lot of time in the children's orthopaedic clinic at the local hospital. I saw a number of teenage boys with broken and twisted limbs as a result of motorbike accidents.

They are a hazard to other drivers as well. Young kids racing around on motorbikes have hit my car twice and then raced off through the traffic to avoid being caught.

They were lucky to hit a farang's car. Some Thai drivers have other methods of dealing with them.

Murderous Driver Shoots Teen Motorbikers in Road Rage

Sometimes you will see young girls of a similar ilk riding pillion with the dek wairn. These are known as 'sagoy'. They are normally the kind of vacuous Thai girls you see wearing 'Big Eye' contact lenses. They dress in a certain style and have childish personal Hi5 pages confirming their lack of intelligence.

สก็อย

If 'sagoy' has a meaning, I'm afraid I don't know what it is. I think it's just a word to describe the type of girls who associate with 'dek wairn'.

If 'dek wairn' don't end up killing themselves they migrate to racing pickup trucks around the streets. This makes them even more dangerous to other road users because of the physical size of the dangerous weapon they are driving.

The anarchy on Thailand's roads is a serious social problem that the Thais are unable or unwilling to deal with. And don't think that this is purely a problem for the locals. If you visit Thailand for a vacation or live in Thailand you are also at risk every time you go outside.

Occasionally the police make arrests, but generally the little brats are left alone by the law. Law abiding Thai people don't like what goes on either, however, Thais are afraid to take action themselves for fear of repercussions. My cleaning lady told me that the worst kids are often sons of policemen and because of this they believe they are untouchable.

Land of Smiles? No, definitely not. The reality in Thailand is very different from how the country is presented in an effort to encourage tourism. Selfish people behave with absolutely no consideration for others, the rule of law is weak or non-existent, drivers shooting other drivers is common, and the country borders on anarchy.

Street racers nabbed

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The Fast and the Furious

A typical boy racer's set of wheels in Thailand - Click for larger image As if young Thai males on motorbikes aren't annoying enough, the situation gets even worse when they migrate to cars. The Honda Prelude in the photo is a good example of a boy-racer's car. They like semi-sporty models from Honda and Toyota, not to mention that favourite model of boy-racers and social inedequates from all around the world - the BMW 3 Series. In Thailand there are also lots of boy racers in pickup trucks.

The first thing they do is add a huge exhaust tailpipe. It makes no difference to the performance of the car but that's not the point, it makes a lot of noise (which is desirable) and they think it looks good. All over Thailand there are garages that specialise in adding large tailpipes and you will find that many vehicles have them - even some tuk-tuks.

The next piece of customisation is a naff plastic body styling kit and a huge, pointless spoiler. Proper sports car manufacturers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars designing spoilers and testing them in wind tunnels to improve aerodynamics and increase downforce. Thai boy-racers just stick a big plastic wing on the back and have done with it.

Thailand is full of garages that specialise in fitting these big exhaust tail pipes - Click for larger image The movie 'The Fast and the Furious' achieved cult status in Thailand and inspired a culture of street racing. Thai boy racers have no respect for the safety of other people as they turn the streets into race tracks.

You may be thinking that this is the case all over the world wherever young males drive cars and that if you give a young, testosterone-laden male a car or motorbike he will naturally try to drive it as fast as he possibly can.

I wouldn't disagree but there is a subtle difference in Thailand. In other countries with lots of traffic police, speed cameras and red light cameras it won't take long for the drivers to be caught, prosecuted and banned.

The difference in Thailand is that there are no cameras and the police aren't interested. The young kids drive as fast as they want with impunity because they know that nothing is going to happen to them. The only thing that will stop them is killing themselves or other people. It's a crazy situation.

I've been observing and taking photographs of Thai boy racers and their vehicles for years. Here's a page I put together on the subject.

Boy Racers of Thailand

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Honesty, Integrity, Trust and Generosity

Stray pups in the Chinatown area of Bangkok - Click for larger image These things are not hazards obviously but I wanted to include some good things on this page to maintain a balance. We all have a tendency to watch out for bad things and highlight these in order to warn other people of potential dangers. However, we don't feel quite as obliged to say as much when good things happen. It struck me that this page was getting very one-sided and it was starting to paint quite a bad picture of Thailand when actually the reality is very different.

Bad things do happen but they are not that common. I got conned on my first visit to Thailand but I acted so naïvely I deserved it. I might as well have had a sign around my neck in Thai saying, "I am a stupid farang, please take my money."

I had a pair of Oakley sunglasses (originals - not a Thai copy) stolen while out on a diving trip. It could have been the Thai boat boys but it could also have been one of the other farang divers. To balance things out, here are just a few examples of more positive behaviour I have experienced in Thailand.

I hope I am not tempting fate by saying this by I feel safer from crime and generally I trust people more here than I do in the UK.

  • On several occasions I have tried buying small items with large notes and the vendor hasn't had any change. Instead of refusing to sell me the item they have given it to me and said it is OK to come back later with the money.
  • I have left items behind in restaurants and completely forgotten only to find the restaurant owner has chased after me in the street with my book or newspaper, or whatever.
  • On a trip to Ko Yo to visit the museum I didn't know where to go. A group of students who were also going there acted as my guides. At the museum ticket counter they couldn't change a Bt500 note and I had no change. A ticket suddenly appeared. One of the girl students had paid for me out of her own pocket. The students were actually working and went off to study within the museum. I managed to get some change at the restaurant there and then had to track her down to give the money back but she was completely unbothered about me paying her back.
  • On about my third trip to a bungalow operation in Khaolak they were getting to know me quite well. When I turned up they just gave me a key and that was it. They didn't ask how long I was staying for, neither did they want any money as a deposit. They trusted me completely just to settle up when I left.
  • The university students I teach are very generous. At the start of each class I am normally given some fruit, snacks or drinks. They have also treated me to several meals.
  • Over a number of years I have developed a friendship with a family who own a restaurant in Khaolak. Local transport in the area is not good but despite the fact I don't visit often, whenever I do they are always willing to run me around using their vehicles. That was before the tragedy there and one of those friends died in the 26th December 2004 tsunami.
  • When it comes to offering food, Thais are extremely generous. I could probably survive eating food I am offered here without having to buy any. Eating for the Thais is a communal and not a solitary affair. If there is food around it is always offered to others.
  • The shop I have remained loyal to for second-hand mobile phones has provided me with replacement batteries and repaired my phone free of charge well after the warranty has expired. What's more is that the damage was caused by me either dropping the phone or getting it soaked after being caught in a downpour.
  • Some Thais work for so little money I feel like I am robbing them when they tell me how much they want. One lady seamstress who works from a table on the street did a great job for me repairing a pair of shorts and altering the waistband on two pairs of trousers. She asked for Bt60. I gave her Bt100 which made her day but it was still ridiculously cheap.

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How Dangerous Is Thailand?

Thai lady playing the traditional game of maa-gep - Click for larger image People like to ask on Internet travel forums "Is so-and-so country dangerous"? Well, is Thailand dangerous? I understand what people are getting at but really it is a stupid question. Yes, I have felt in danger in Thailand. When my breathing went out of control at the Similan Islands while scuba diving and I had 30 meters of sea above me I was seriously worried. A few road trips where the driver has overtaken a bus that is already overtaking a car have also worried me somewhat. There are potential dangers everywhere you go.

On this page I'll try to cover a few things that may concern people, ranging from serious hazards to minor annoyances.

Update January 2005: I still maintain that overall Thailand is a safe country to visit but there are times (and this is one of them) when all I seem to hear about is death. The Tsunami that struck on 26th December 2004 resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people was unprecedented in Thailand and unpredictable with the technology currently in use. However, apart from that, many other tourists have returned home in coffins and body bags in the past year.

There have been the inevitable road deaths which kill thousands of people every year including a good number of tourists. Tourists have also died accidentally in activities such as rock climbing. The latest deaths I have heard about happened as result of a speedboat capsizing whilst travelling between Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Ngan.

The Golden Triangle area of northern Thailand - Click for larger image It would appear that the boat was overloaded, as usual, to maximise profits. It should have only been carrying 30 people but according to news reports between 40 and 45 were crammed in. This is so typical in Thailand and happens all the time regardless of which mode of transport is being used. I know from experience also that boat drivers don't like going slowly. Just as they ride their motorbikes, once Thais get going it is a case of pulling the throttle as far back as it will go and travelling as fast as possible. This is not the first time loss of life to tourists has occurred on boats travelling between islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

Murder is fairly unusual but in the past year I've read about farangs being killed by Thais and also by other farangs. The murders may have been about money, disagreements, altercations or domestic disputes involving Thai women. In Thailand it is advisable to keep a low profile and not to antagonise people. Life is cheap.

And then there are the people who decide to take their own lives for whatever reason. The most well publicised suicide in 2004 was that of a guy (Italian, I think?) who jumped from a light aircraft into the sea. One initial suggestion by the Thai authorities when they couldn't find his body was that he was trying to fake his own death. That sounded a bit strange. Surely if you were trying to fake your own death you would want to make sure you survived? Would jumping out of a plane be the best way to do this? It turns out the poor fellow was in the final stages of terminal Leukaemia and couldn't face life any longer. His body was found eventually.

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Protecting Tourists

Pickpocket warning in Bangkok - Click for larger image A Singaporean living in Thailand I once spoke to told me of an unwritten code of conduct among Thai crooks and robbers that tourists are left alone. The tourism business represents a massive part of the economy and harming it harms a lot of people.

Part of the culture is not to mess with other people's rice bowls - especially those of fellow Thais - and to mess up the tourist trade would affect the livelihoods of an awful lot of people. Here are a few facts from the Bangkok Post.

"According to national account data and the Thai Tourism Satellite Accounts produced by the World Travel and Tourism Council, on average between 1998 and 2005, international and domestic tourism directly and indirectly accounted for 13% of GDP (655 billion Baht), 10% of employment (three million jobs), 13% of exports (417 billion Baht), 12% of investment (117 billion Baht) and 3% of the government budget (13 billion Baht)."

This reliance on tourists doesn't quite subscribe to the theory of sufficiency economy but that's how it is and the Thais are pleased to get the money. In some areas, naturally, tourism accounts for far more than 10% of employment. It's something that Thailand just can't afford to screw up and so there are lots of measures in place to take care of visitors.

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Urban Myths

I vividly remember my first visit to Thailand in November 1987. It was an incredible trip but while waiting for my flight home at Don Muang airport I guarded my luggage feverishly. I was paranoid that someone was going to plant drugs in my bag which would be discovered as I passed through the airport, resulting in me being falsely accused and sent to a hellish Bangkok prison for the next 20 years.

Fear is a very effective controlling factor and governments can get away with murder (literally) if people are afraid and the government justify their actions by saying it is to make the world a safer place. Governments want people to be in debt and they want them to be afraid of the outside world. Our media drive these myths to ensure that people have lots of fears.

This idea about planting drugs and false imprisonment in countries such as Thailand has been around for a long time. It even inspired a TV mini-series called 'Bangkok Hilton' (the nickname of the infamous Bangkok Bangkwan prison) starring Denholm Elliott and a very young Nicole Kidman. Previously, 'Midnight Express' had terrified travellers to Turkey.

Even today I get asked about this by people coming to Thailand for the first time and it is a genuine fear. All I can say is that I have never had any problems and I have never met or spoken to anyone who has. All I know of is an old TV movie and scores of urban myths.

There is probably as much chance of this happening to you as there is of waking up in a bath full of ice one morning, finding a rubber tube in your stomach and a note to say that your kidneys have been removed. This doesn't mean you can afford to be stupid though. Don't just leave luggage unattended at airports and if anyone should ask you to help them carry items through security, you definitely should not.

On the other hand, if you think that smuggling a few drugs out of Thailand would be a good way to finance your travels, that's a completely different story. Smuggling drugs anywhere in the world is stupidity but to do in Southeast Asia where the normal penalty is execution is insanity. It seems to be taking some Australians a long time to learn this lesson.

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Trapped In Thailand

Old Thai lady and dog - Click for larger image I see a lot of farangs who I believe are trapped in Thailand. They abandoned their countries of birth, moved to Thailand and now can't go back. Many probably don't want to go back anyway but, even if they did want (or need) to, they can't. With many people I see I don't think they could afford to go back and I don't think they could find work. Twenty years of bumming around in Thailand doesn't look too good on a CV and working for a living is probably their lowest priority in life.

The main problem is the very low cost of living in Thailand. It is possible to live reasonably well on a very small amount of money but not possible in Europe or North America. Another factor is the easy living that Thailand offers. After living in Thailand for a while it becomes quite difficult for many people to live anywhere else.

Is being trapped in Thailand such a bad thing? This depends on many factors. For many foreigners living in Thailand, their right to stay in the country is not guaranteed. Very, very few foreigners obtain Thai citizenship and reside in the country on some kind of a visa arrangement even if they have a Thai wife and/or have set up a business.

Even the longest visas are only good for one year after which time they need to be renewed or extended but renewals or extensions are never guaranteed. If you feel that you can't live anywhere else but then find that Thailand doesn't want you for some reason then that could be a problem.

Depending on what you want to do with your life, Thailand may not be the best place for you to achieve your goals. If that's the case, yet you feel trapped, that is also not good.

I have made a conscious effort not to fall into the trap by retaining my house in England and trying to retain my job skills in order to remain employable in case I decide to go back. However, the great lifestyle available to me in Thailand is something that keeps me trapped in the country. I have a modest property in the UK which I can always go back to but currently there is no reason for me to do so.

Sleeping monk, Chiang Rai - Click for larger image Renting it out and doing a little part-time English teaching in Thailand gives me a monthly income of about Bt80,000. This is peanuts in the West but in Thailand it's a liveable amount considering that a huge chunk of the population earn something like Bt6,000 to Bt10,000 a month. My work is great. As it is part-time I have lots of time to myself and I am completely my own boss. I have worked for far too many idiots in the past and being effectively self-employed, as I am now, is very good for me.

If I went back to my house in the UK I would lose my rental income and immediately be subject to high British prices for absolutely everything. The local council would be knocking on my door for council tax which is probably around £120 a month or more these days and all I would see for that is my dustbin being emptied once a week.

I would need to start working again and would have to endure more silly games of office politics and internal power struggles as egos wrestle with each other in the workplace. The thought isn't very appealing. I have a great life in Thailand and I am very reluctant to give it up. There are many other factors.

I'd have to start doing my own laundry again. In Thailand I just leave my dirty clothes outside the door to the apartment, the maid collects them and they come back washed and ironed. This service costs me Bt500 a month, probably the same as a top London hotel would charge for laundering one shirt.

When I feel like it I go for Thai massage and let a pretty girl massage me for two hours for Bt200 (plus tip). I wouldn't say that massage in the UK is unaffordable but certainly it's a lot more expensive than I am willing to pay.

Eating out is never cheap in England. In Thailand I always eat out. Most of my meals are very cheap - less than Bt100 - but I always have someone else cook them for me. There are many benefits living in Thailand and the list just goes on.

Going back to the Western world would also mean going back to living a very single life. In Thailand I never have to make much effort to get the company of very attractive girls a lot younger than me. Yes, I guess I am trapped by the lifestyle but if I really needed (or wanted) to I could go back to where I came from.

If I never go back to England it doesn't worry me particularly. What is important to me though is being able to choose. I have always regarded the ability to be able to make choices in life as being extremely important. Being able to walk away from bad jobs, for example, is important as I can't stand the thought of having to do something I'm not happy with.

Being able to make choices in life is important for me. I am happy living in Thailand and have no plans to leave but the fact I can (if I want to) makes me feel a lot more comfortable. Is this something that is important to you? It's something to consider before giving up everything you have now for a one-way ticket to the Land of Smiles.

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How's Your Luck?

Thai folklore imagery at Ko Yo island in Songkhla province - Click for larger image Perhaps I am over cautious at times but I try not to rely on luck too much. I live within my means by making sure my incomings are more than my outgoings. I have money set aside for unexpected problems and I have things like health insurance. I have all the paperwork required to work legally in Thailand, I have a Thai driving license and I like everything I do to be above board. It's just the way I am.

With Thailand's lax approach to law enforcement and the general easy-going nature of the Thais, the country attracts a lot of foreigners who aren't really bothered by the things that bother me. Their motto is, "Don't worry about it." Some get away living like this for years and don't seem to have any problems. But how's your luck?

On a trip to Patong to meet my family I was wandering around the Thanon Bangla bar area one morning observing (in the cold light of day) what a mess it really is. Propped up on the bar in one small place as I walked past was a picture of a grinning farang and it caught my attention.

I stopped and walked back to read what had been written below the photo. I won't give his name but he had an Irish surname. He had been in Patong for seven years and was now in the local hospital in a critical condition. It didn't say why. Maybe he had been involved in a motorbike accident or maybe his liver had finally given out.

There was a collection box next to the picture. The text said he was a, "friend to many." Friendship between expats in Thailand can be a strange quality though. He looked like an inoffensive chap and was probably generous buying drinks in the bar but where were his 'friends' when he most needed them?

Of course, I don't know the whole story but I have observed lots of expats in Thailand. The fact that a donation box had been set up in a bar for him says a lot about what he was doing in Thailand. It looks like he had been riding his luck and living from day-to-day but his luck had run out after seven years.

The appeal for donations implies he had no medical insurance or emergency funds to cater for such an event occurring. Some expat farangs exist for 20 or 30 years like this, if they're lucky, but how's your luck?

And the tourists do it too. The majority of them don't have the necessary license and insurance to ride motorbikes in Thailand but they rent them anyway. Some don't wear crash helmets and some drink and drive. Some also drive crazier than the Thais which is really saying something. Most of the time they get away with, but how's your luck?.

The reason that you don't meet people whose luck ran out in Thailand is because they aren't around any longer. The fortunate ones got to go home but many farangs end up going home in coffins or body bags. As far as the guys are concerned who push their luck all the time, it makes them feel better that there are other people in the same situation and they aren't alone.

Their motto might be, "Don't worry about it," but how's your luck?

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Preconceptions

Local Thai people in Sukhothai - Click for larger image Before I begin this section in earnest I think it is important that people arrive in Thailand (or anywhere else come to that) with an open mind. I've written below about experiences I've had, which haven't all been positive, and I have my own views on things. Lots of other people do too and the Internet is an easy place to publish personal views and opinions.

In addition to the Internet we get a constant feed of information from different news sources which is all biased to some extent because it has been compiled and edited by someone who has their own view. It can be a dangerous thing to form too many opinions before arriving. Try to take people for what they are without being cynical straight away. Be aware to the potential dangers and scams but try to give people the benefit of the doubt first.

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Violent Crime

Monks at the Golden Triangle area in Chiang Rai province - Click for larger image I have generally felt safe in Thailand, even walking around at night in secluded areas but the situation is definitely changing. Most Thais are not aggressive and I don't hear much about violent crime from day to day. It does exist though and the situation is a lot worse than it appears to be on the surface. Muggings in Bangkok and the provinces are becoming more frequent. Many people are poor and some have peculiar notions about the wealth of foreigners. Thai Robin Hoods, taking from the rich to give to the poor (normally themselves) are not unheard of.

It seems that one of the major motives for violent crime is infidelity. A farang guy I heard about married to a Thai woman started messing around with another Thai woman and when his wife found out she ordered a contract killing on him. The same thing happened to a Thai national who was managing a Mercedes dealership and started seeing a Thai woman who was divorced or separated. Her ex-husband got upset and had the other guy done away with. This type of story is reported in the Thai tabloid press fairly often and there is normally a gory photo of the victim splashed over the front page.

There was even the story about a Thai prostitute whose Thai boyfriend got upset about a Malaysian client who had been paying for her services. He attempted to shoot the Malaysian.

I was told of a German national who was murdered by a couple of Thais because he understood what they said when they insulted him in Thai and he said something back. A male cousin of a Thai friend of mine went out to a disco one evening in Phattalung, got into an altercation and was beaten to death with wooden clubs.

A 40 year-old Austrian man was murdered by a 34 year-old Thai in Phitsanulok for being 'disrespectful', according to his murderer. They had been drinking and it turned into a fight because of the Austrian's alleged contemptuous remarks against Thais. He died from having his throat slit

As a foreign tourist in tourist areas it is unlikely that you will come to any harm but there are some nasty undercurrents in the country and it pays to be careful. To make you feel better I have also been told that there is immense social and political pressure on Thais not to commit crimes against foreigners.

A massive amount of money is brought into the country by tourism and screwing up the tourist industry really would be cooking the golden goose. It doesn't take much to deter sensitive tourists from visiting a place and if they get scared about coming it takes a long time to get their confidence back.

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Firearms

Sign at a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai - Click for larger image There are far too many guns in Thailand and since the southern insurgency problems flared up again at the beginning of 2004 the number has increased with people wanting to protect themselves. For example, teachers working in the affected provinces now routinely carry a gun for self protection. However, guns can very easily get into the wrong hands. I read a comment a long time ago that many Thais have guns and a few are stupid enough to use them. It's quite true.

A reader of this site told me of a Thai who collided with a new Mercedes on his motorbike. The Mercedes owner took out a gun and shot him dead. Thai newspapers and TV report a lot of shootings. Pick up a Thai newspaper on any day of the year and there will most likely be a picture of a slain body on the front page. It's not very visible to the average tourist but news and statistics confirm that the problem really does exist.

Until I saw the following statistic I didn't realise quite how bad the situation was. According to Nationmaster.com, after South Africa and Columbia (two notoriously dangerous countries) Thailand has the third highest rate of intentional homicide committed with a firearm. The fourth placed country, Zimbabwe, is a long way behind Thailand. I read somewhere that there are an estimated 10 million illegal firearms in Thailand.

These are not statistics the country can be very proud of. Buddhist temples may be 'Non-killing areas' but unfortunately that doesn't apply to the rest of Thailand.

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Rogue Males

Chinese temple warrior - Click for larger image As far as the male of the species is concerned, the Thai variety is certainly a lot more agreeable than most and even though they probably exist, I don't think I've ever met one with the psychopathic tendencies displayed by males I've encountered elsewhere. It seems there is no need in Thailand for most men to split a stranger's face open in order to complete a successful night out drinking with their mates.

When you meet groups of Thai men drinking in the evening they are much more likely to want you to join them than cause any problems. In my experience they are very friendly and the only physical contact they want to make with you is a handshake. I've even known groups of men I've just met to insist on paying for my meal.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule and there is a certain type of Thai male who is best avoided. The Thais know exactly what I mean and the girls especially are very careful. In Thai they are known as naklaeng. I can normally tell the type by the way they look at me. They don't normally start trouble over nothing but have a general attitude they can do anything and push the limits of what is acceptable behaviour in Thai society.

Thais have a huge ego to feed and because of the concept of face they all want other people to respect them. This is why many will get themselves into a lot of debt buying things they can't afford to try to impress others. However, certain members of society try to get respect through fear and intimidation.

The Thais just ignore them to avoid any provocation and this is the best course of action for foreigners. This is what I normally do but at times my familiarity in Thailand breeds contempt and I forget my own advice. Here is an example.

Walking along one evening I came across a group of bad boys all sitting on their motorbikes blocking the path completely. In some situations I might have made a comment about their lack of consideration for others but instead I bit my tongue and stepped in the road to walk around them.

In addition to avoiding cars I also had to walk around two more members of the gang sitting on another motorbike at the side of the road. Just as I did so the motorbike roared away very nearly hitting me. I was incensed. I didn't say anything but couldn't help myself making a loud growling sound to indicate my displeasure.

This didn't go down well. The kid on the back of the motorbike glared back at me and his friends on the pavement started having a go verbally for my daring to question their anti-social behaviour. How dare anyone, let alone an inferior farang, suggest they couldn't do just what they wanted to do in this, their country?

I immediately realised I shouldn't have said anything and continued walking, not making any eye contact. The only problems I have heard about in Thailand between foreigners and local men is when the foreigner has provoked them in some way, just as I had done.

Sometimes it is a job for me to bite my tongue because their behaviour is totally obnoxious and just isn't right. It's really not worth saying anything though. Just let it go. Mai pen rai.

Update It's 2005, 18 years after my first visit to Thailand and 18 months into living here. I have noticed that things are changing and some unpleasant aspects have started to creep into Thai society. It is not unusual now to be on the receiving end of verbal insults, glares and vulgar hand gestures from young Thai males.

It is because I am a farang in their country. There is no other reason. When this has happened I have been minding my own business and have done nothing to provoke them, nor have I known who they are.

I'm not sure why this has only started happening recently. It could be that I understand more Thai but before, when I didn't understand anything, the body language would still have been very clear. It could be that I am in the provinces where 'provincial' attitudes exist. Certainly in the UK there are more problems in provincial areas with violent young males than there is in London.

Where I live in Thailand, farangs are not that common. In parts of Thailand with lots of foreigners this is maybe not such a problem because firstly, the locals are more used to seeing them and secondly, they rely on foreigners more for their livelihoods.

Or maybe this is just a sign of the times? Everyone wants everything in today's society but we can't have everything. The false Thai perception that farangs have unlimited wealth possibly makes them resentful because they think (wrongly) Westerners can have the things they want but can't have? Or maybe they resent foreign men taking away their girls?

The first time this happened it took me completely by surprise and I put it down as being an isolated incident but it has happened since. I would be interested to hear if any other foreigners living in Thailand have experienced similar behaviour.

One thing I would like though is for the young hooligans to agree a plan of action before they set out just in case they come across any foreigners. It's a bit disconcerting after almost being knocked down by a couple of yobs to hear the driver of the bike shout out, "Hello, what's your name?" as they roar off while at the same time his mate on the back glares at me giving me the finger.

Visit Thailand

Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.

If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.

I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.

If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand

 

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